A small budget can go a long way if you’re making an animated short, but that doesn’t apply to the two movies I recently watched on Netflix. Allow me to digress for a moment because I don’t know what the deal is with Netflix in the states, but up in Canada the selection hasn’t been all that great. The shortage of hit movies available is made even more irritating by the slew of direct-to-video releases that show up. For example, you’ll find cheap knock-offs like Battle of Los Angeles in place of the real Battle Los Angeles.
As a robot fanatic I naturally decided to check out some robot-themed movies and happened upon Robot Stories and Run Robot Run!, two decidedly low-budget flicks (in the range of $100k). The reviews follow after the break, and I’d warn you of spoilers if I thought you might actually watch them.
Rather than making one really good short film, director Greg Pak decided to film all four of his robot-themed short stories and compile them into one film.
The first story, My Robot Baby, follows a couple as they take home a robot baby to show they are responsible enough to handle a real one. It’s not a bad concept for a robot-themed film, and is a plausible scenario that will be familiar to anyone who had to take care of an egg for a sex ed class. As it turns out, the robot baby looks quite a bit like a football-sized egg with cardboard eyes stuck onto it. Despite the cheesy props the story does contain some interesting ideas, like when the robot’s “mother” reprograms the bot so that it automatically takes care of itself. Unfortunately the concept was better explored and in much greater detail in Steven Spielberg’s A.I., and it quickly dissolves into a silly suspense film when the baby robot runs amok late at night.
The second story, The Robot Fixer, isn’t really about robots at all. A distraught mother is visiting her comatose son, who has been hit by a car. While cleaning up his apartment, she and her daughter find his collection of robot toys. The mother decides to complete her son’s collection in a symbolic bid to put her son back together. By the time this one was over I was ready to stop watching this turd, so I did.
This is a comedy with too much of a romantic twist thrown in. Kent, the hero of our story, gets replaced at work by a friendly android, and things take a turn for the worse when the mechanical man attracts the attention of his lovely coworker. The android’s artificial nature isn’t really played up in the film since its budget was too limited for any sight gags, but does provide a few laughs with its sometimes witty dialogue. Unfortunately the story squanders much of its potential by not putting a robotic spin on annoying office politics, like those satirized so well in Office Space and The Office.
The film loses steam as Kent desperately tries to find a way to sabotage the android to get him out of the picture, which boils down to the notion that only humans are truly creative. After that, there’s an agonizingly long section where the android teaches Kent how to loosen up and become more human, which didn’t provide any laughs at all. I did watch all of its 1 hour and 22 minute running time, which was long enough for the director to end it with a textbook movie cliche. Bad director, bad! It looks like I’ll have to dig deeper if I’m going to find robot-themed movies to recommend through Netflix.